Review: The Belko Experiment

These benefits are not worth it.

In Bogota, Columbia there is an office building on the outskirts of of the city belonging to Belko Industries. It seems just like any other day for their employees, until they notice the heightened security. They assume it's just a threat and push on. There's Mike ( John Gallagher Jr.) who's in a relationship with Leandra (Adria Arjona) Leandra has to put up with the unwanted advances of Wendell.(John C. McGinley) There's Dany (Melonie Diaz) who is just starting her first day. And then there's COO Barry (Tony Goldwyn) trying to take charge. In total, 80 people are in the Belko building today. Suddenly, a loud speaker goes off and an unknown voice informs the employees that if they don't kill a certain number of their colleagues, these people will double that.

It's impossible to ignore the political undertones of this movie. I don't think it was intentional. James Gunn wrote this film a while ago, but I couldn't help but think of Trump's America when watching it. There's the rich white guys, who literally line up people over 60 and shoot them in the head. Then there's the group of other men, women, minorities that are trying to find some other way to get out of this without killing each other. It's easy to see which group you're rooting for.

What The Belko Experiment manages to do in its less than 90 minute run time is pretty grand. It got me to care about enough of these characters even though there wasn't time to completely flesh everyone out. Nice security guard? Fuck yeah, I like him. The group of employees who welcome Dany with open arms and jokes? Please live. And of course John Gallagher Jr. I love this guy, he's great here. The acting is good all around.

It borrows heavily from others like Battle Royale and The Cabin in The Woods but it's gory fun. I'm sure you won't see another film where someone epically beats someone else to death with a tape dispenser. 

Recommended: Yes

Grade: B

Memorable Quote: "You think the government is doing this?" - Leandra (Adria Arjona)

A few thoughts on 37...

Or how not to make a "day in the life of a historical event" film.


*Spoilers ahead for 37, Bobby, and Orange is the New Black*

I decided to forego my traditional review format for a little film I watched on Netflix recently called 37. (As I'm sure you'll be able to tell from this post, I would've given it an F)

37 is a fictional account about the large group of bystanders that either saw or heard Kitty Genovese being murdered and did nothing about it. Kitty was a real person, as anyone who has ever taken an American criminal justice class would know and what happened to her was awful. What drew me to select this film? Well, to be honest, I started thinking of Orange is the New Black again, and how upset I was that they killed off Poussey. So when I saw Samira Wiley's face on it, I thought "why not?"

The film tries to make us care. Wiley and Michael Potts play a black couple moving into a white neighborhood in the 60's. Maria Dizzia and Jamie Harrold are absentee parents who punish their kids way too often. Sophia Lillis plays a girl (who clearly has OCD and isn't getting help for it) that lives with her grandparents after her mother did something bad that is never addressed. Kind of interesting, right? Sophia's character is the only one that interacts with Kitty for more than 2 seconds, and only once. 

I've sat on this for a while before writing it. I thought "Am I being too hard on these characters because they ignored a crime?" I don't think so. They're really just terribly written. I need to compare this to another film that was about fictional characters that centered around another real life crime, and that's Bobby, The 2006 film about Bobby Kennedy's murder. I know it wasn't hit with critics. Rotten Tomatoes has the critics score of 46% vs the audience's 72% but I really liked it and compared to 37, it's a masterpiece.

The main thing Bobby did better than 37 was how it tied its characters to RFK. In Bobby we meet people working with his campaign, others who are inspired by him, ones who are dreading the work that comes along with his visit. While RFK is only seen in archived footage, he actually feels like a character. Kitty is a footnote. They didn't need to use her name at all, they could've used her case as inspiration and created someone new, but nope. They dragged her name into this mess.

Another thing is the characters themselves. On paper, their conflicts sound interesting, but the script gives them no weight. The dialogue is stilted, the arguments eventually feel repetitive and forced. It presents far more questions than answers.

Then there's the climax, Kitty's murder, which happens within the last 10 minutes of the film. They at least tried to get the accuracy of how the attack went down, but they take it a step further and make their characters look even dumber than their real life counterparts for ignoring it. (Many thought it was a domestic dispute) Here, a kid who yells outside his window for her murderer to leave her alone is told by his dad to shine his flashlight towards the sink so he can fix it...at 3:00am. Another bystander who sees Kitty bleeding out in the hallway is taken a step further to actually witness her rape as well. And even though it's shot mostly in shadows it feels exploitative. They make little Debbie's grandparents look inept as she runs from their apartment, skipping down the halls at 3:00 am. Then the film tries to absolve all of this by using an "arty" shot of the police lights shining on the apartment building.

The timing of this movie is strange enough, with a documentary from Kitty's brother about trying to find the truth of these claims, The Witness also being released last year. That one is also on Netflix, and if you're going to choose one, go with that. 

I think I'm ranting because I don't have a new Indie Gem to post this week. The last few indie films I've watched haven't been gem worthy. I suppose I could've re-posted the last few since no one read them, but hey, ranting can be therapeutic, right? 

Did you watch this film? What are your thoughts?

Thursday Movie Picks: The Ancient World

This week's theme from Wandering Through The Shelves is movies set in the ancient world. To be honest, I hate most movies that fall into this theme. I have no idea why, I have nothing against the theme itself. I just feel like this is a pretty easy one to fuck up. Here are a few that I enjoy

1) Troy

I swear I don't like this movie just because Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom are super hot....okay, that's most of it. 

2) 300

This one I actually do like, it was different and those slow motion shots were great.

3) Hercules

I was tempted to use the Rock version just for the line "fucking centaurs" but I legitimately love this cartoon. The Muses' for life. 

DVD Review: Denial

Really, British legal system?

Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) is a professor and historian living in Atlanta, GA. She publishes a book about Holocaust denial and in it, she calls a spade a spade and refers to a man named David Irving (Timothy Spall) as a denier. He in turn, sues her for libel in England where she's forced to prove that SHE is the correct one because that's how the legal system works. Luckily for her, she has two very competent lawyers, Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson) and Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott) to guide her along the way.

This is based on a true story and immediately grabbed my interest. I wrote a lengthy paper on Holocaust deniers in high school after encountering one and being baffled that these people actually exist. I wish I could remember the books I referenced in that paper. I almost wonder if Lipstadt's was one of them. 

The film's strongest moments are in the courtroom. Before the trial happens, I found the dialogue to be kind of stilted. It was like the plot fumbles along until it finds its purpose in court. That's where the movie sticks, but not enough to make it extraordinary.

The acting is great. Weisz plays Deborah very well (and apparently nails her accent if you've met her) Timothy Spall was perfectly punchable as Irving. I just wish the film overall was better. It lacked something that I can't quite put my finger on.

Recommended: Sure, it's a decent DVD rental.

Grade: C+

Memorable Quote: "Is it the Diana thing?" - Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott)

Review: Kong: Skull Island

He's a God here.

Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) work for a a mysterious company and are heading a mission to a remote island in the south Pacific that has gone mostly unnoticed due to a storm that constantly surrounds it. All they have is satellite images and a hunch of what could be there. They meet up with with a group of soldiers that were just about to come home from the Vietnam war, Colonel Samuel L. Jackson, (Samuel L. Jackson) Mills, (Jason Mitchell) Cole, (Shea Whigham) Slivko (Thomas Mann) among others. A few scientists San, and Nieves (Tian Jing and John Oritiz) a photo journalist, Weaver (Brie Larson) and a British tracker Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and set off for the island. There, they encounter Kong, and a lot more. 

Monster movies tend to have bland characters and thus, you don't really care for them and only want to see carnage. That's half true for Kong. I did care about what happens to a few of them, like those played by John C. Reilly, Larson, Hawkins, Jing, Mitchelle and Mann. The rest range from red shirts to characters who's actions are solely plot conveniences. Jackson is playing himself, which isn't a bad thing. Samuel L. Jackson is pretty fucking cool, but his character's actions become frustrating. Tom Hiddleston is horribly miscast, he's supposed to be this badass tracker but he spends most of the film posing.

It's obvious the filmmakers were big fans of Apocalypse Now. We saw that in the posters, and there's shots that mirror what we saw there too, and it's beautiful. The cinematography and special effects in this film are really lovely. 

It's your typical monster flick, I had fun with it. I cared about Kong, half the cast, and there was never a dull moment. There's also a scene after the credits that ties this film in with another we already saw, it's definitely worth sticking around for.

Recommended: Yes

Grade: B

Memorable quote: "They sound like birds, but they're fucking ants." - Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly)

Indie Gems: The Living and the Dead

Does anything ever go right in a huge creepy mansion?

"Ex-Lord" Donald Brocklebank (the late Roger Lloyd Pack) owns a sprawling mansion that's falling apart. On top of that, he has to take care of his bed ridden wife, Nancy (Kate Fahy) and his mentally ill son, James. (Leo Bill) When Donald is called away to settle his bankruptcy, he hires a nurse to look after Nancy. James isn't very pleased with that, and is determined to take care of his mother himself. He locks the nurse out, and stops taking his own medication. Of course, everything goes down hill.

This might be one of the most effective horror movies I've ever seen. Nearly everything about it was hard to watch. There's no supernatural forces here. It's all about mental illness, it's difficulty, and what happens when it's not managed. The film handles that subject with care. Leo Bill could've easily given a disrespectful performance here, but he doesn't. Fahy and Pack are also very strong in their parts. Fahy has the most uncomfortable role as a mother who doesn't want her son to care for her. And Pack wears the burden of all of this on his face so clearly.

The way the film is shot however, won't be for everyone. Since the house they live in his so big, a lot of the scenes of James going from one part to another are sped up quickly with loud music. They also don't tell a linear story, and we see glimpses of the future in direct contrast with what's happening "now." Because of that, it's easy to guess how the films ends. 

Grade: B-

Watched on: Netflix DVD.

Memorable Quote: "I just wanted you to trust me." - James (Leo Bill)

Thursday Movie Picks: Remakes/Sequels You'd Want To See

This week's theme from Wandering Through The Shelves is very different from what we're used to. These movies don't actually exist yet. Wanderer asks us which sequels and/or remakes of films we would actually like to see? That's a good question. At first I thought I'd only stick with sequels, then I remembered an entire trilogy of films that should be remade. 

1) Moonlight

Our time with Chiron wasn't finished, damn it! I needed to see what happened to him and Kevin. I don't even need a full on sequel, just give me 20 more minutes. My curiosity is endless.  

2)  The Star Wars Prequels

I would redo all of these and remove them from canon. When we meet Anakin, he would already be an adult. There would be no Jar Jar, less politics, and no midicholrians. 

3) Ain't Them Bodies Saints

I would like a sequel that shows Ruth and Patrick actually living a good life together. 

Bonus: The Harry Potter Series - This is a bonus because I'd like to cherry pick, remake wise. Let's just cast someone else as Hermione and give all of Ron's great lines that were given to other characters back to him and show that he's equal to Ron and Hermione and not some goofy sidekick that has to stand in the background. So basically, no Emma Watson, no Steve Kloves, and lets lose Alfonso Cuaron for good measure too. Everyone else can stay.